First, James Kennedy said:
- I have an idea for an additional checklist item, if I may. It comes from watching too many movies lately in which the tone is wearyingly unvarying. Stuff like ENDER’S GAME or THE HUNGER GAMES just has this relentless pounding on the same emotion again and again, which leads to a deadened experience for the audience. (Both have this feeling, it feels like 95% of the time, of a tense gotta-do-the-jobness, rarely venturing into anything that would make one laugh or cry or be aroused or whatever.)
- Contrast this to, say, STAR WARS or RAIDERS or even AVENGERS . . . there are exciting bits, funny bits, scary bits, romantic bits, shocking bits, weird-for-weird’s sake bits . . . the movies run the gamut of many emotions for the viewer. And they feel like they breathe, they acknowledge that we live in a world in which there are many different conflicting and contrary emotional responses to various situations. If those movies don't run the emotional gamut from A to Z, they at least go A to, say, K. But HUNGER GAMES and ENDER’S GAME only go from A to C and they suffer for it.
- Whoever’s making these movies seems to think that, in order to maintain a certain thematic tone, then the story itself should elicit exactly one or maybe two emotional responses from the audience, and they relentlessly bang on that limited emotional palette for the whole two hours. It's exhausting and boring and self-defeating. You need to let up on the tension to create real tension. You need to have serious parts for the funny parts to hit, and vice versa. So maybe a new item in the checklist might be like, "Does the story make the viewer experience at least 5 distinct emotions" or something like that. Or "Are there necessary tonal shifts." Basically, a more sophisticated, multivalent version of "Did it make 'em laugh AND cry?"
- About James Kennedy's point: I get what you're saying. But I'd argue that you've just been seeing too many subpar one-note movies. It's hard enough for any given film or book to create and sustain a mood, period. I've seen some pretty great new one- or two-note films this year: ALL IS LOST, PRISONERS, THE CONJURING, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. And some of the greatest films of all time take place in a very narrow register. Not every story needs the generosity and full spectrum humanity of writers like Shakespeare, Chekhov and Tolstoy. I wouldn't want LE SAMOURAI interrupted by comic relief or some kind of Ozu-esque sadness at the fleeting nature of things.
So what would the new questions be? Maybe one or both of these:
- Does the story feature comic relief?
- Do the scenes have varying levels of intensity?
I think one difference between Black Swan and those other movies is that the intensity in BS is subjective: the heroine feels no let up from the pressure in her brain, and the movie recreates that feeling in a powerful way, whereas in HG and MoS, the unrelenting intensity is external. The heroes aren’t hallucinating that their world is this monotonously intense, it really is, and that means that I’m sitting in the audience rolling my eyes and plugging my ears.
So what question could account for that? Maybe…
- No matter how serious it is, does the story have moments of comic relief and/or breathing room for the audience (unless the material demands a tone of unrelenting hopelessness)?
What do you think?